William Kentridge- Five Themes
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
14 March to 31 May 2009
This is the first major retrospective of the South African artist in the US and the SFMOMA explains that the exhibition will explore five central themes that have engaged Kentridge over the years. I haven't managed to pin point what these five exactly are but no matter this is a wonderful exhibition showing a breadth of mixed media work from Kentridge.
Kentridge is an interesting character and the work in the exhibition is both lyrical and politically hard-hitting. His father was a famous apartheid lawyer and Kentridge himself studied Politics at university. Through his artwork he continues to comment on colonialism, apartheid, Aids and wider political themes. Kentirdge is interested in exploring how an individual is affected by political violence, The psychological effects of this and the nature of displaced people. Within his work there are recurring characters who represent the duality and contradictions of life.
Kentridge also worked for sometime in the theatre and then moved focus to visual art. His involvement with the theatre continues to have strong reflection in his work and is what lends many of the pieces in this exhibition their power.
The majority of the work in the exhibition has been completed by Kentridge since 2000. Kentridge is best known for his stop motion films where he works on paper in charcoal, then he photographs as he draws and then the photos become the films/ installations. There is a wide range of work on display at SFMOMA some of it dreamy, lyrical , poetic, painful, comic or all of the above. I am transported by Kentridge's installations to another place. I am forced to think on issues that are at times difficult. I am amazed at the beauty of the execution of some of the work. The animations and installations are by far my favourite.
'The Black Box' (2005) is a fantastic kinetic animated installation which demonstrates the darker side of political trajectories. According to Kentridge the installation looks at the damages of colonialism with references to the 1904-7 rebellion and subsequent genocide of the herero people in present day Namibia. Kentridge is interested in how we represent political trauma and reconstruct historical events after the fact.
Acting as a coda to Kentirdge's 'The Magic Flute', 'What Will Come' considers the fascist invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) by Mussolini 1935. Warped images projected onto a planar surface reconstitute themselves in a cylindrical mirror suggesting the cyclical nature of history and its potential for distortion.
By far my favourite piece in the exhibition is 'I am not me the horse is not mine' (2008) . This is one of Kentiridge's most recent works and relates to his upcoming staging of the opera 'The Nose' at the MET. This is an installation that looks at learning form the absurd and examines avant-garde revolutionary Russian art. Kentirdge combines motion animation of paper cut-out figures with archival footage and live action film. The work takes its title from a traditional Russian saying to deny guilt that Kentridge found in the transcript of Nikolai Bukharri's 1937 testimony. One of the eight screens in the installation presents excerpts from this testimony. This is a witty and beautiful work. I enjoy the shadow Kozak dance on one screen while a giant nose plays the piano and then morphs into a ballerina. Refugees perform a long march across a third screen while African then Russian/ Balkan music add to the atmosphere.
Overall the exhibition of Kentridge's work at SFMOMA is a sensual and moving experience. The curators have chosen the work well and allow us to see the breadth of Kentridge's talent and to journey through some of his political ideas with him. I could spend hours there and I do!